By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
COMMON digestive health issues such as acid reflux can be relieved through diet and lifestyle modifications according to medical professionals.
Dr Gemma Rolle, gastroenterologist said although heartburn is common there are measures that people can take to manage the issue. She was the speaker during the Doctor’s Hospital distinguished lecture series “Listen to Your Gut” last month. During the lecture Dr Rolle focused on common digestive health issues and how they can be managed.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the oesophagus and stomach. Many people, including pregnant women, suffer from heartburn or acid indigestion caused by GERD.
During digestion Dr Rolle said, the esophageal sphincter opens to allow the passage of food to the stomach. When digestion is abnormal the LES is weakened and food as well as stomach juices flows back to the oesophagus.
“The muscle ring or sphincter closes to prevent things from coming from the stomach back to the oesophagus and it also opens to allow food to flow down. When you have a weak sphincter or your stomach is too full, or you have too much acid the contents can reflux into the oesophagus. The cells that line the oesophagus are different from the cells that line the stomach so acid should not be there. It will irritate the oesophagus. It can cause erosions, breaks or tear the oesophagus,” she said.
Heartburn, usually feels like a burning chest pain beginning behind the breastbone and moving upward to the neck and throat. It lasts as long as 2 hours and is often worse after eating. In some cases heartburn pain can be mistaken for the pain associated with heart disease or a heart attack.
“Symptoms of the disease includes sensation of burning or discomfort which usually occurs after eating, lying supine or bending over. Regurgitation is actually a feeling that your stomach content or stomach juices coming into mouth. Some people may have trouble swallowing, or may feel that something is getting stuck.
Atypical complaints of the disease are coughing/wheezing and it can be common in people with GERD. For persons that have the onset of chest pains especially with (other conditions) should not just blame it on heart burn or GERD. If you are someone who is at risk for heart disease and depending on the type of chest pains, and the symptoms that you describe you should probably rule out a heart or cardiac cause. Otitis media or enamel decay are atypical symptoms,” Dr Rolle said.
A variety of foods can trigger acid reflux like pepper mint, pepper, foods with a lot of acid, chocolate, caffeine and tomato based products.
“Any type of alcohol can trigger acid reflux. Sodas are a double whammy because it is a carbonated beverage. It produces gas or it allows for the build up of gas in the stomach. Gas can distend the stomach, taking up more space and allowing that acid to go into the oesophagus.
“Diet and lifestyle modifications is one way to manage gastro-oesophageal reflux. It is important to know what your triggers are and avoid them. It is not recommended to avoid every food that causes acid reflux. Take me for example, drinking coffee and eating onions gives me heart burn. I can eat tomatoes, I can eat pizza, greasy food and not get heart burn. But give me coffee, give me onions and I will have a heart burn. So I am not going to avoid everything that is known to cause reflux. You should just avoid the ones that will cause reflux for you,” she said.
Along with lifestyle and diet changes, over-the-counter or prescription and other treatments are available. Dr Rolle said relief will come once people understand the causes and treatments available for GERD and heart burns.